Tag Archives: Michael Fassbender

March Madness of Movies: Best Superhero Villains of the 21st Century — Round 2

These matchups were vote on by the MovieMinis Staff.

While five The Dark Knight trilogy villains worked their way into round 2, only 2 now remain in #1 seeds The Joker (Heath Ledger) and Bane (Tom Hardy) from The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, respectively. #4 seed Scarecrow from the entire trilogy and #3 seed Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins were eliminated at the hands of MCU heavyweights #1 seed Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) from Black Panther and #2 seed Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from The Avengers (and other MCU films). Those two heavyweights will now face each other in what is, essentially, the decider of the best MCU villain.

The previously mentioned #1 seed Bane will compete against the #2 seed Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) from Spider-Man 2 — both physical beasts with fascinating stories behind them. #1 seed The Joker will go head-to-head with #2 seed Magneto (the Michael Fassbender version) from the new X-Men trilogy. While the absence of a backstory makes The Joker so frightening and effective, it’s the tragic, heartbreaking backstory of the younger version of Magneto that elicits so much empathy for him, despite his cruel actions.

The final matchup will be #1 seed Magneto (the Ian McKellen version) from the original X-Men trilogy vs. #3 seed Buddy Pine/Syndrome (voiced by the hilarious Jason Lee) from The Incredibles. While Magneto still has the backstory, his older version is plenty of fun to watch, as is Syndrome. Both hit on the larger-than-life characters while never feeling cheap.

The spread of contenders remaining feels just about right. This bracket is made up of villains from the MCU, DC films, X-Men films and any other superhero villains, and there is prominent representation of each of those subcategories in the elite eight. There is even potential for there to still be representation of each in the next round.

Stay tuned for the round 3 results, which will be posted next week on Friday, March 30!

 

Featured image via Marvel/20th Century Fox/Pixar/Warner Bros.

March Madness of Movies: Best Superhero Villains of the 21st Century — Round 1

These matchups were vote on by the MovieMinis Staff.

There were a few upsets in “Best Superhero Villains of the 21st Century,” but they do seem rather easily explainable. #5 seed Adrian Toomes/Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming topped #4 seed Mr. Glass from Unbreakable; the middle matchup is always up in the air and the former comes from such a massive property. Vulture could put up a fight against #1 seed Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, one of the weaker high seeds. In addition, #6 seed Professor Robert Callaghan from Big Hero 6 took down #3 seed Helmut Zemo from Captain America: Civil War. Zemo rose to a #3 seed due to very strong individual rankings. Plus, he’s not in the film that much, as the main conflict revolves around Iron Man and Captain America. It’s also going to be tough for Callaghan to get much further, as he’ll come up against #2 seed Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2.

Beyond that, everything went as planned. Two of the MCU’s best villains, in #1 seed Erik Killmonger from Black Panther and #2 seed Loki from multiple MCU films, will take on two The Dark Knight trilogy villains, in #4 seed Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow and #3 seed Ra’s al Ghul.

On the other side of the bracket, #1 seed The Joker from The Dark Knight will battle another smiling evildoer in #4 seed Green Goblin from Spider-Man. Both Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender’s Magnetos, #1 and #2 seeds respectively, advanced and will take on MCU villains in #3 seed The Winter Soldier from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and #4 seed Ulysses Klaue from both Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther. Finally, the fifth villain from The Dark Knight trilogy, #2 seed Harvey Dent/Two-Face, whose specifically from The Dark Knight, will face the animated contender, #3 seed Syndrome from The Incredibles.

Stay tuned for the round 2 results, which will be posted next week on Friday, March 23!

 

Featured image via Marvel/20th Century Fox/Sony Pictures/Warner Bros.

Box Office Report: ‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’ scares away competition

This past weekend saw the release of three critically panned films: GeostormTyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween and The Snowman.

With Happy Death Day in its second weekend and Blade Runner 2049 in its third, one of those three critical failures was poised to take the top spot. And with the strangely wide appeal of the franchise, Tyler Perry’s 7th Madea film won the weekend with an estimated $21.65 million. While that is the second worst opening for a Madea film, it’s still a financially impressive weekend as its production budget is only $25 million — which likely means that more Madea films will come.

Coming in second was Geostorm with an estimated $13.3 million. On a production budget of $120 million, it’s a foregone conclusion, and not a surprise at all, that the film will be a box office bomb.

Happy Death Day fell more than expected, however, only pulling in an estimated $9.375 million — a 64% drop from its opening weekend. Regardless, the horror film’s budget is only $4.8 million, meaning that it’s already extremely profitable.

In 4th, and still struggling to make money despite outstanding critical reviews, was Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, taking home an estimated $7.155. Standing at $194.1 million worldwide on a $150 million budget, the film will also lose money — unless markets it’s yet to be released in, like China, can get it to the approximately $300 million it needs to cross even.

The only critically acclaimed new release of this past weekend, Only the Brave, earned $6.01 million for the 5th spot. The film recounts the true story of the brave team of firefighters who fought the massive Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013. It currently sits at a 90% on RottenTomatoes.

Jumping past The Foreigner, which made $5.45 million, and It, which made $3.5 million, new release The Snowman, starring Michael Fassbender, only made an estimated $3.442 million. The director has come out to say that the production ran out of time and they weren’t able to shoot 10-15% of the script — as some sort of excuse for its low critic scores. Regardless, the film is shaping up to be a financial failure as well.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via Chip Bergman/Lionsgate.

Trial: Who is the best movie villain of the year so far?

*Trials is a weekly series in which two writers tackle a proposed question or task. After they’ve written their opening statements, the writers will offer rebuttal arguments against the other’s and for their own, and a third writer will come in to make the verdict.*

This week’s question: Who is the best movie villain of the year so far?

Writers: Harrison Tunggal and Kyle Kizu
Judge: Levi Hill

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Harrison’s argument:

Easily, the best villain — or rather, villains — of the year comes from Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The Armitage family function as terrific movie villains in every conceivable way. They offer thrills that more than justify the price of an admission ticket, but also transcend the entertainment value of a masterfully crafted horror film.

The Armitages hold up a mirror to our society in the most affecting way possible, presenting us with a clan of white liberals that are as destructive as any MAGA-branded, outed racist and as insidious as Freddie Krueger. Sure, maybe Dean (Bradley Whitford) would have voted for Obama for a third term, but the way he drives the point home is more like a nervous tic designed to hide a deep-seated undercurrent of racism, rather than anything remotely approaching sincerity. It’s a feeble attempt at preserving the illusion of white racial innocence, an illusion that is outed as soon as the Armitages host their party — less of a party, and more of a montage of barbed microaggressions.

And if it wasn’t obvious that the Armitages are innately and intensely harmful, then they reveal themselves as outright monsters when they enact their body-snatching plan, trapping Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in the Sunken Place while they perform their heinous operation. Jordan Peele has been direct in naming the Sunken Place as a metaphor for the silencing of Black voices, while the Armitages’ body-snatching operation is a literal takeover of Black bodies.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Though I can’t know what it’s like to view Get Out as a Black audience member, it is clear that Peele’s film is a cinematic expression of racial anxiety — one made from a uniquely Black perspective. This expression of racial anxiety is effective, by and large, because of the Armitages, and the writing behind them.

Going beyond the abstract, the Armitages are an example of compelling villains, particularly Rose (Allison Williams). When she gets found out, she resorts to attempting to seduce Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a truly despicable moment in a film filled with them. She also tries to use her whiteness to pin the violent third act on Chris. Thankfully, it doesn’t work, but it once again exemplifies the depths of depravity that define Rose. Jeremy’s (Caleb Landry Jones) overbearing masculinity and Missy’s (Catherine Keener) hypnotic tea cup only add to the villainy.

Ultimately, the Armitages represent a villain we’ve never seen before. As white liberals, the Armitages are a far-cry from Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), or the snarling Epps (Michael Fassbender), which allows them to lend nuance to conversations about race, making them significant in the pantheon of film. Confronting racial anxieties has become ever more important — this country’s leadership is exacerbating such anxieties, rather than soothing them and finding solutions to them. Therefore, it is up to us to shoulder that burden, and films like Get Out — through its nuanced villains, among other aspects — can point us in the right direction.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Kyle’s argument:

While it’s an especially on-brand choice, I believe that my pick for the best villain of the year so far is the right one: “the enemy” from Dunkirk. We’ve seen “the enemy” in countless pictures before — flaunted with their symbol, uniform and leader. But we’ve never seen them quite like this. In Dunkirk, “the enemy” is faceless, a haunting spectre that terrorizes the British soldiers like the shark does to the beach goers in Jaws. And in that sense, “the enemy” is all the more frightening for it. Not only is there a sense of realism to the approach — as the real soldiers themselves almost certainly lacked any visual — but it also allows Christopher Nolan to get creative.

The main visual we do have are the ME 109 planes, and there’s something about how they’re realized that’s more terrifying than if we were also in their cockpits. They pop up of nowhere, coming “out of the sun.” They follow determinedly, with an unstoppable motivation, a horrifying monster always on our soldiers’ tails, and they hold equal terror in their evasion, a villain just out of grasp.

But with any other visuals taken away, Nolan turns to the other sensory aspects, mainly sound. The sound design of Dunkirk almost feels as though it’s for a horror film, which leads to some seriously horrific scenes of destruction and death. As eyes wander into the sky and bodies start to scramble or duck for cover, the hard cut to the approaching dive-bombers, their intimidation horns sounding out, is literally arresting and utterly transfixing.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

And their impact is devastating, with bombs lifting sand and soldiers into the air and gunshots splintering and riddling the wood of the mole as man after man takes cover.

“The enemy” terrifies even simply with its guns. Bullets pierce without origin, with a purpose solely to murder. The opening scene as soldier after soldier falls and, when Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) makes it over the fence, the gate is blown apart by countless bullets stands next to the Dutch ship scene where three gunshots inject endless fear into the soldiers below as two of the most frightening in the film.

And that’s exactly where “the enemy” becomes more than just a faceless villain. Below deck of the Dutch ship, and on deck of the Moonstone with the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy), our men start to tear each other apart, absolutely terrified by the thought of murder. “The enemy” invokes a fear of annihilation, a fear that digs into our characters’ bones and causes them to turn on each other — the only direct uses of “German” being directed at our own allies. While the sounds are scary as all hell, and would alone be almost enough reason to win, it’s the effect that “the enemy” creates here that puts them over the top. Without ever being seen, they get into the minds of our heroes and almost pull them apart.

We’ve all been granted far too omnipresent, omniscient views of “the enemy” in countless films before. Dunkirk’s rendering is one of the first that shows us how real soldiers likely saw them. And we all know who they are and what they stand for, so seeing them in this light is refreshing and, truly and immensely, far more terrifying.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Harrison’s rebuttal:

First and foremost, Kyle, your undying love of all things Nolan will never cease to draw my utmost respect and admiration. Additionally, before I make my points, I would like to emphasize that my rebuttal is not intended to detract from the validity of “the enemy” as a movie villain, nor as a real-world source of evil. I am in no way saying that Nazis are less terrifying than the Armitages — both represent terrible evils that must be stamped out with the utmost vigor.

While I admire Nolan’s creativity in showing characters reacting to “the enemy,” I will assert that the uniqueness of the Armitages in cinema makes them the more significant villain. Jordan Peele doesn’t show us images of overt racism, but rather tries to impart a deeper understanding of the fears and anxieties of Black people by showing us villainous white liberals — people that seem harmless enough, but would reject such a deeper understanding, which only intensifies the aforementioned fears and anxieties.

Both Nolan and Peele show us new takes on villains we’ve seen before, but I would argue that Peele gives us new dimensions to a conventional racist antagonist, whereas Nolan removes dimensions from his Nazi antagonists. Again, this is not a criticism, just an observation — I mean, Nolan doesn’t give them faces or names. Nolan streamlines his antagonists, distilling “the enemy” into one thing —  the sense of fear they cause.

In contrast, Peele gives the Armitages many different angles of deplorability — the privilege that Rose embraces, the objectification of Black people that all of the Armitages are guilty of, and the denial of a Black person’s consciousness that is the Armitages’ ultimate goal. Solely in regard to the films, the Armitages represent a wider swath of villainy than “the enemy.”

Finally, the Armitages are a deliberate exercise in scathing social commentary. While “the enemy” is as relevant today as they were in 1940, Dunkirk doesn’t deliberately position its antagonists as social commentary. “The enemy” exists in the film to escalate tension, but does little else, unlike the Armitages in Get Out. As such, Get Out has the better villain, on the basis that the Armitages antagonize Chris, while also serving the film’s satiric and symbolic ends.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Kyle’s rebuttal:

Similarly to your rebuttal, it’s difficult to argue against how good of villains the Armitages are. Get Out is truly a landmark film and the unforgiving, scathing, honest and raw depiction of the damage that white liberals, apparent allies, cause is deeply nuanced in regard to how Jordan Peele writes and directs them. It’s a deeply needed portrayal within cinema. So, in rebutting, my framing is to simply show how “the enemy” is a better villain, not how the Armitages are worse.

I have to address the comment about how Nolan removes dimensions from “the enemy” because that’s exactly why they’re so phenomenally impactful. We know what “the enemy” stands for. We know the absolute atrocities that they committed and we’ve been beaten over the head with depictions of their deplorable ideology.

Thus, when Nolan removes those dimensions to focus in on a singular aspect, it actually enhances “the enemy” in ways that only reduction could. Dunkirk focuses on the visceral, invasive physicality of “the enemy” and its devastation. The film shows us images of death, tactics of intimidation — the “We surround you” papers are breathtaking in how much evil three words exude despite their simplicity — and effects of fear like we’ve never seen them before. So, because we already know the nuance, or lack thereof, of who “the enemy” is and what they represent, showing them in this light is actually a grander, more impactful and more horrifying rendering of them than we’ve gotten before.

It’s like Jaws, but if the shark were a Nazi. It’s like a Nazi shark. I mean, come on.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

As I said before, the Armitages are terrifying villains. And I don’t want to argue with how Peele depicts them — it’s an approach that does its job and does it so well that it becomes deeply resonant in today’s world. I think, in purely cinematic terms, their tracks could’ve been laid a bit more methodically. I don’t mean this to undermine how abrasive and jarring white people’s microaggressive statements are, but it feels as though, in terms of cinematic crafting of villains, they might have even been more effective with a more paced out progression.

It’s difficult to argue that Get Out isn’t clearly more of a social commentary than Dunkirk is, but I do think that Dunkirk has a very subtle political idea that goes along with not naming “the enemy.” In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Mark Rylance posited the idea that the Germans have been villainized enough in regard to the Nazis. They’re a country with guilt hanging over their heads and, more importantly, they’re a country that’s moved on from that evil while it’s in America where, somehow, neo-Nazis now hold a world stage. In that sense, not naming “the enemy” becomes more empathetic and all encompassing as it’s not a people that the soldiers were fighting, but rather an ideology. The soldiers were fighting fear and hatred, and that is something still relevant today.

Levi’s Verdict:

As the second edition of Trial, or the Kyle vs. Harrison show, I once again had the dubious honor of having to choose between two wonderful arguments. Yet, instead of masking who I think is the winner, like I did last time, I will just come out and say that Harrison, once again, wins in a tough battle. Reading the rebuttals of both, I feel that this edition offered much more succinct arguments from both sides. Both promoted their arguments and neither attempted to bring down the others. That is a testament to the strength of both writers and the ideas behind both.

Kyle’s argument about how “the enemy” revolutionizes how we typically see war villains is true. It did. And Nolan’s Dunkirk is a stunning achievement. The way that it’s the ideology being fought — a violent, pretty much unseen force — is a frightening metaphor for how those violent, deep-rooted ideologies can pervade at any time. It’s quite like the shark in Jaws, as Kyle mentions, but with real ideological fervor and fear. Hatred and fear still persist today — both nameless and faceless.

But to me, the tangible reality of Get Out’s villains, the Armitages and white liberals, are a far too pertinent villain of today.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Peele’s film magnifies the anxieties regarding the way African Americans are viewed within society — with their voices silenced, with their bodies sexualized and glorified, with their minds traumatized — and the film confronts both openly racist and subtly racist white people and their causation in the way society problematically operates today. Because of the fact that Get Out puts a face to the ideologies and spends time letting the audience get to know the fake-good intentions of the Armitages, only to show their truly monstrous and manipulative plans, Peele makes a specific, yet wide critique of white people in America.

Ideologies scare us all. But a face to the ideology scares us just a little more.

Winner: Harrison Tunggal

 

Do you agree with Levi’s verdict? Sound off in the comments for which villain you think is better, or if you would’ve chosen another one entirely.

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

The Summer Oscars: The Best in Movies of Summer 2017

No one is going to fight for last summer. It was a horrific time for movies, blockbuster after blockbuster failing both financially and critically, and the few indie gems that did come out being ignored. While its best film, Hell or High Water, is undeniably magnificent, the list falls off steeply after that. So when it came to this summer, many were hesitant. Would the studio continue to crank out garbage? Unfortunately, it did, with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Transformers: The Last Knight both continuing a disgusting trend. But unlike last summer, for every stink pile this summer, there was a brilliantly entertaining crowdpleaser. For every horribly messy embarrassment, there were two or three films that showcased some of the most masterfully artful filmmaking of recent memory. Despite it being one of the worst periods for the box office, this summer’s movies themselves, as many have said, represent one of the best seasons we’ve had in a long time. In May, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Lovers hit on both ends of the cinematic spectrum in lovely fashion. As June rolled around, It Comes At NightThe Big SickBaby Driver and The Beguiled showcased why relatively smaller films are where we should invest our interest. But let’s also not forget about the wondrously historic event that was Wonder Woman. In July, blockbusters found life again, as Spider-Man: Homecoming reinvigorated the web-slinger, War for the Planet of the Apes capped off one of the best trilogies of all time and Dunkirk stunned as an overwhelming cinematic achievement that perhaps only Christopher Nolan could’ve made. Indies didn’t stop either, with A Ghost Story haunting us to this day, Girls Trip stomping on everyone’s pre-conceived notions and Atomic Blonde kicking everyone’s ass as women have this summer. A dip may have expectedly come in August — it’s almost unavoidable — but within the bad were gems like Ingrid Goes WestLogan LuckyWind River and the arresting, John Cho-starring (more please!) Columbus.

It’s been shocking to watch this summer unfold, great movies releasing almost weekly. Top 10 lists of this season rival those of the entirety of last year. So, to combat this strange idea that films not from the fall should be left on the cutting board when it comes time for awards season, we at MovieMinis thought to award the best of summer 2017 so that they may have their fair share of the spotlight:

Best Original Screenplay: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani — The Big Sick

Amazon/Courtesy

Comedies had fallen flat. Great romcoms were almost non-existent. Then, The Big Sick showed up and not only gave us more from the genre than we’ve had in a long while, but genuinely brought out the best that it could offer. And it all starts with its absolutely pitch perfect script. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon based The Big Sick in the true story of their romance, and it’s easy to immediately feel the truth at the core of the film, which features such emotionally resonant scenes that hinder on what a character says and what another doesn’t — the film being, on a whole, about communication and perspective. Gordon and Nanjiani give thorough perspective to each character in the film, something that most films in general don’t do. Kumail, Emily, Emily’s parents, Kumail’s parents and Kumail’s friends are all written with a care for independent motivation and given actual arcs that are fulfilled. And all of this is outside of the comedy, which is perhaps its best feature. While, these days, most jokes in films feel forced, The Big Sick is all about natural humor, humor that feels informed and plays off of the film’s themes of perspective and culture. Truly, The Big Sick‘s script is wholesome. But if we were being honest, it deserves this award if only for that 9/11 joke.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: David Lowery for A Ghost Story

Bret Burry/A24/Courtesy

A Ghost Story‘s screenplay reportedly hovers around 30 pages. Many know that the “one page, one minute” concept is a mostly incorrect generalization, but to have 30 pages turn into 90+ heart-wrenching minutes is a feat, a feat because writer-director David Lowery somehow finds a harrowing, haunting truth with very few words. It’s not surprising, considering that the film is essentially a showcase of minimalism on all levels, but each line of dialogue, each crafted scene, in setting and progression, hold the weight of the human condition — our fight against time. The characters are defined with a tragic tenderness. The supernatural concept is executed so organically. While most of the film becomes about the visual, it’s the written word that conceives such a thing, and it’s hard not to be wholly moved by the simple and profound written word of A Ghost Story.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Trey Edward Shults — It Comes At Night
4. Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson — Okja
5. Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Honorable Mention: Kogonada — Columbus

Best Adapted Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

The most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy is led by one of the best film characters of all time, Caesar (Andy Serkis), and that is a huge credit to the screenplays behind the films. In the best of them all, War for the Planet of the Apes, the script plunges Caesar to his lowest point, and it is nothing less than riveting. Despite the regality that emanates from him, he is brought to a crushing point of desperation — exacerbated by the menacing, if sympathetic Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Ultimately though — and this is perhaps the most defining trait of this Apes franchise — Caesar’s downfall makes him yet more human in the eyes of the viewer, and more importantly, his arc by the end of the film feels rewarding and earned. Over the course of three films, Caesar has transformed from a mere pet into an epic hero of biblical proportions — a legendary Mosaic figure that thenceforth enriches and informs the history of the apes. Then of course, War’s script maneuvers tone expertly — showing us the harrowing depths of Caesar’s fall, but also taking moments to inject much-needed levity through Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) and franchise mainstay Maurice (Karin Konoval). Such a script makes War the capper to one of the great film trilogies of all time, a sentiment echoed by 20th Century Fox’s plans for a major awards campaign.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Sofia Coppola — The Beguiled

Ben Rothstein/Focus Features/Courtesy

There are two wars in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. One is obvious— the film follows a school of women and young girls in the Confederate south as they nurse a Union soldier back to health. The other is far more subtle; it wages beneath the surface, simmering behind genteel manners, flirtatious glances and courteous dinners. Coppola’s script rises to the challenge of the particular setting, imbuing those infamous Southern manners with surprising malicious underpinnings. Even Colin Farrell’s charming Union soldier comes across as harmless on paper, but it’s the nonverbal threats accompanying his every word that leave the audience on the edge of their seats. News that Coppola was adapting the original 1971 film came with both criticism and anticipation, but in the end, the script is one of her all-time best. Talk about nailing an ending.

— Kate Halliwell

Nominees:
3. Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Christopher Ford, Jon Watts, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein — Spider-Man: Homecoming
4. Alice Birch — Lady Macbeth
5. Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs — Wonder Woman

Honorable Mention: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham — The Glass Castle

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Holly Hunter — The Big Sick

Amazon/Courtesy

Holly Hunter has always been a reliable character actor, winning an Oscar in 1993 for Jane Campion’s The Piano. However, it has been awhile since she gave a performance that dominated the critics circle and awards season talk. Well, thanks to her touching, humorous and scene-stealing turn in The Big Sick, it appears that she is about to enter those conversations again, and maybe even dominate them.

In the film, Hunter plays Beth, the mother to Zoe Kazan’s character Emily Gardner whose sudden medical condition puts her into a coma. From here, Emily’s ex-boyfriend, Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) feels like he has to stay bedside to Emily throughout this ordeal, despite Beth’s wishes for him to keep his distance. At first, Beth’s character seems like the stereotypical, stuck-up mom who doesn’t believe anyone will know her daughter better than her. Yet thanks to both Hunter’s acting and Nanjiani’s writing, the film slowly reveals the depths of character that have made Beth such the stern mother she is. While she may live an upper-middle class life, saying her life has been easy is a miscalculation of her tics. Being the performance behind some of the most tear-jerking scenes in the movie (and since the movie might be the biggest tear-jerker of the year so far), Hunter won us over. Look for major awards talk to come her way this year.  

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Rooney Mara — A Ghost Story

A24/Courtesy

No one does repressed grief quite like Rooney Mara. From her turn as a restrained, lovestruck shopgirl in Carol, to Lisbeth Salander’s trademark subdued fury, Mara has built a career on her ability to speak volumes with a single look. A Ghost Story marks a return to form for Mara, who is genuinely devastating as a grieving wife haunted by her recently deceased husband. Mara is as understated as always, and again she’s enormously effective. Pain flickers across her face, then it’s quickly replaced with a sort of emptiness, a numb realization that things will never return to the way they were before. Mara has reached a point in her career where perfection is expected, and as such, her performance in A Ghost Story will most likely miss out on any awards season recognition. Even so, it’s comforting to know that performances like these are just another film for Mara. We can look forward to many more understated, brilliant turns to come.

Just perhaps not ones that involve eating an entire pie.

— Kate Halliwell

Nominees:
3. Tiffany Haddish — Girls Trip
4. Tilda Swinton — Okja
5. Kirsten Dunst — The Beguiled

Honorable Mention: Zoe Kazan — The Big Sick

Achievement in Costume Design: Jeffrey Kurland — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Dunkirk may not jump out as a film with amazing costume design. And that’s exactly why it’s such an achievement. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland didn’t have the uniforms in hand to simply recreate. Each garb had to be handcrafted with the character’s definition ingrained in each thread. Upon close inspection, what may have initially looked like an endless see of brown becomes an indicator of what kind of soldier each one is. For Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), his uniform is overwhelming and big, a sign of his youth and inexperience. Alex (Harry Styles) wears, as some may not have noticed, a slightly different uniform (people have connected his character and his regiment to Scotland), one that fits tighter and is more controlled, indicative of his higher status. But the singularity of uniforms wouldn’t have been enough to sell the look of this film. Dunkirk is about being there. It’s about feeling as though you’re on the beaches, as though you’re being bombed by German planes. It’s about the feeling of being stuck. And the costumes had to be designed with this gritty, dirty, sweaty sense of desperation, of being washed over by ocean water, of being stranded for a week and beaten down into the streets and sand.

But the costumes are also about the civilians who came across on boats. The sweaters have already been raved about humorously on social media. But the 40s English attire truly does inform the story. These are ordinary men thrust into an operation far greater than anyone may handle, and the humble simplicity in a hand-knitted red sweater truly does impact the film and call to the “Dunkirk spirit” as much as the soldiers’ wear and tear does.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Stacey Battat — The Beguiled

Focus Features/Courtesy

Period dramas tend to seem like a boring choice when it comes to costume design recognition, but the pastel evening gowns and crinkled crinolines of The Beguiled are too fabulous to ignore. In one particularly memorable scene, Kirsten Dunst’s sexually repressed Southern belle comes to dinner in a ruffled, revealing gown that ostentatiously shows off her best assets. Her attempt at wooing Colin Farrell’s charismatic Union soldier is just as unsubtle as the gown itself. Instead, he’s more interested in Elle Fanning’s far younger seductress, who is all blushing cheeks and fluttering eyelashes in a series of flowy white gowns. Nicole Kidman presides over the chaos as a stern, commanding governess. She’s nearly always clothed in imposing high-necked gowns, excepting the already infamous “Bring me the anatomy book!” scene, where she’s literally up to her elbows in blood. What a waste of a gorgeous nightgown.

— Kate Halliwell

Nominees:
3. Holly Waddington — Lady Macbeth 
4. Cindy Evans — Atomic Blonde 
5. Lindy Hemming — Wonder Woman

Honorable Mention: Annell Brodeur — A Ghost Story

Achievement in Production Design: Nathan Crowley — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Similar to its costumes, Dunkirk doesn’t jump out as a film with stunning production design. In actuality, it’s not meant to be one. The production design, much like every other craft aspect of the film, acts in service of immersion, in service of the visceral, tangible, largely physical experience. Shooting on the real beaches of Dunkirk came with a big problem: part of the central setting, the mole, had been destroyed. And thus, production designer Nathan Crowley was tasked with recreating it, with building a pier that’s been, alongside the soldiers, the blunt victim of unforgiving waves and, more terrifyingly, dive-bombers. As Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) run down the breakwater, squeezing between soldiers and traversing blown off portions over only planks, the mole feels and, most importantly, looks alive, like a character bracing alongside the soldiers.

The sets of ship interiors and exteriors during attacks, of a stronghold in the city and of the equipment and vehicles on the beaches are designed with that same gritty, worn down aura and historical accuracy. These sets are complex and extensive, built to invoke claustrophobia. Crowley also makes use of portion sets and cardboard cutouts for backgrounds, extending the view of soldiers endlessly, capturing the scope of 400,000 men.

But where the film engulfs us next is in its design of its planes, recreating Spitfires through redesigns of other planes. The dogfight sequences are some of the most stunning of Dunkirk, and the fact that real planes are used, interiors and exteriors designed with pinpoint precision, does wonders for the main goal of the film: transporting us there.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Aline Bonetto — Wonder Woman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

In the first act of Wonder Woman, we feel a sense of awe not yet felt within the DC Extended Universe, as we explore the island of Themyscira, where Wonder Woman was brought up by the Amazons. The architecture and culture of Themyscira is reminiscent of the ancient Greeks, but unique enough to fascinate and intrigue viewers, and that’s a credit to production designer Aline Bonetto. Of course, her work in designing the drabness of London and the battlefields of World War I are admirable, but her work in designing Themyscira is truly praiseworthy. She carves out a space within the DCEU that’s bright and majestic, and it leaves us nothing less than wonderstruck.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. David Scheunemann — Atomic Blonde
4. James Chinlund — War for the Planet of the Apes 
5. Scott Chambliss — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Honorable Mention: Hugues Tissandier — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: John Blake, Jay Wejebe — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Marvel/Courtesy

The makeup in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is nothing short of pristine. The stunning makeup on the colorful aliens Yondu (Michael Rooker), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) were carryovers from the first Guardians film, but this time, John Blake, Jay Wejebe and their team created an entire race of aliens covered in a gold sheen — the Sovereign. These aliens look like walking Oscars, which could be somewhat prophetic given the team’s excellent work in this film. If that weren’t enough, the film also puts a spotlight on the Ravagers, a motley crew of scarred, deformed space pirates, which put the onus on the makeup team to create a variety of hardened alien thieves. In particular, the film’s joke about Taserface (Chris Sullivan) wouldn’t have worked had it not been for an appropriately tasered face. Even though Star Wars: The Last Jedi might throw this makeup team’s chances at Oscar glory for a loop, they deserve every bit of praise for this list of summer awards.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Shandra Page, Tony Ward, Mia Goff, Natalie Christine Johnson — The Beguiled

Focus Features/Courtesy

Rarely does hairstyling get as much recognition as makeup, but the work of the hair team of The Beguiled is as integral to the film as every other craft department. With the film’s themes and concepts, of sexual attraction, of a deconstruction of the male gaze, of a community of women separated from the warring country, and with the historical setting, the hairstyling had to be pitch perfect. And it is. The younger children all hold a sense of curiosity and innocence within the larger scale of events. Nicole Kidman emanates a regal authority, fitting her position as head of the house. Elle Fanning’s hairstyling evokes the explorative sexuality that is centric to the film’s story, as is the quiet and repressed core of Kirsten Dunst’s character, whose hair reflects her journey of attempting to break free from a community she doesn’t feel as though she truly belongs to. On an aesthetic sense, the hairstyling is beautiful. But because of the fact that it serves the story so thoroughly, it deserves endless recognition.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Jessie Eden, Sasha Grossman — It Comes At Night 
4. Laura Morse, Christine Blundell — Wonder Woman 
5. Sian Wilson — Lady Macbeth

Honorable Mention: Lesley Vanderwalt — Alien: Covenant

Achievement in Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

It was hard to imagine Christopher Nolan without his longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister. But after Interstellar, it became hard to imagine Nolan not working with Dutch-Swedish lenser Hoyte van Hoytema for the foreseeable future. And their collaboration on Dunkirk shows just why Hoytema may be Nolan’s greatest partner. From the breathtaking first image to the mesmerizing penultimate shot, Hoytema’s work represents the pinnacle of cinema, especially in its IMAX 70mm form. As what’s been said time and time again with Dunkirk‘s craft categories, the main goal of the cinematography is for immersion. And it does that unlike any film truly has. Utilizing the IMAX camera like a go-pro, Hoytema places us as a soldier on the beach, ducking for cover, racing to the departing boats, shaking at the shockwaves of bombs. Through the cinematography, we inhabit a space on the small civilian boats, thrown around by waves. We inhabit a space below deck on navy destroyers, nearly drowning after being downed by a U-boat. We inhabit a space in the air, peering through the scope, veering left and right, laboring as we try to shoot down the German ME 109s. These are camera angles that haven’t been fully realized until this film, with Hoytema and the team inventing rigs to place cameras where they’ve never been before.

On a technical level, the work is astounding. At first, it might not seem as artistic as his cinematography on Interstellar. But Hoytema is perhaps more subtly artful in his rendering of Dunkirk. Like the shot above, there’s this breathtaking sense of scope, this arresting design of the mise-en-scene that tones the look of Dunkirk with a trapped claustrophobia amid one of the largest and most important events of the 20th century. And at the end, the wandering camera almost finds a tranquility unexpected with a film like Dunkirk. Farrier’s (Tom Hardy) Spitfire, gliding with the soldiers below and the city in the background, is truly a shot for the ages, a quiet one that allows us to breathe after all of the overwhelming movement. It’s cinematography that represents the best that cinema can offer, that fights for the medium, both of the film format and of film in general, with something purely visual.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Andrew Droz Palermo — A Ghost Story

A24/Courtesy

If Dunkirk showcases the best that cinematography can offer on the large scale, then A Ghost Story offers the best of cinematography on a small scale. Andrew Droz Palermo’s work truly shows an artist in tune with every thematic level of the art. With A Ghost Story, we’re meant to project our emotions onto the titular ghost, and Palermo rightfully lingers, hangs and frames shots in ways that overwhelm — especially in the framing of uninterrupted still shots — to a point where it’s impossible not to find a profound emotion, or ten, within the eyes of the ghost. But Palermo also excels in movement, his tracking in particularly. There’s this haunting, majestic, almost mythic poetry as we slowly follow the ghost, wholly crafting the film’s spirituality and invoking just what the film needed to become truly great: making us, the viewer, a ghost ourselves.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Philippe Le Sourd — The Beguiled
4. Bill Pope — Baby Driver
5. Michael Seresin — War for the Planet of the Apes

Honorable Mention: Elisha Christian — Columbus

Achievement in Film Editing: Lee Smith — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Dunkirk performs an illusion: the Shepard tone. You may think I’m talking about the score. I’m not. The score performs the illusion too, but Dunkirk, the film itself, is structured in a way that replicates the effects of the typically musical anomaly — something Christopher Nolan intended while writing the screenplay. It’s a massive, difficult task to weave together three storylines that not only are all constantly rising in tension, but also play out on different timeframes. Before jumping in, outside of those complex aspects, Lee Smith is incredibly calculated when crafting action scenes. The Spitfire sequences have been raved about for their realism, and credit must be given to Smith for how fluid and steady the progression of each dogfight is. And right before the soldiers are dive-bombed by German planes, Smith lingers on reaction shots, of eyes wandering up to the sky at the source of noise, masterfully building suspense. But Smith has done these and similar things before, his work on the grander scale of Dunkirk being what truly solidifies this as his and Nolan’s greatest collaboration yet — a monumental feat when considering their work on Inception. Despite jumping backward and forward in time, there’s never a sense of imbalance in the film’s momentum. Each thread feels as though it’s still progressing, even when it’s treading water we’ve been through before — often thanks to careful revelations of dramatic irony. And as the film builds, the structure does too. As expected, the three timelines meet at a singular moment. But instead of simply crashing them together, Nolan and Smith play the climax out of order as the threads seem to try to find each other. There’s a great sense of disorientation, a purposeful one to tone the chaotic, senseless and harrowing event happening before their (and our) eyes, but the scene never loses focus or coherency — a quality that all the best edited films have. The climax plays out of order, but it plays so masterfully that out of order feels somehow more organic, an intangible sense of filmic cohesion, just as the entirety of Dunkirk is, due to how the film is put together.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss — Baby Driver

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

While Dunkirk is a monumental feat in film editing, Baby Driver isn’t as far off as one would assume. Blending the tap and dance sound mixing of a classical musical, with more ferocity of any heist scene featured in Fate of the Furious, Baby Driver would not be as successful of a film as it is without the incredible, crisp editing that Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss pull off. Edgar Wright’s films always feature bravado filmmaking, with wipe pans, dual screens, long tracking shots and practically anything else the cinematic genius can think of, and only editors with the most amount of precision could bring all of the visual and aural synchronization together. So while this might be our runner-up for Best Editing, don’t be surprised if the film manages an ACE nomination later this year.

— Levi Hill

Nominees:
3. David Lowery — A Ghost Story
4. Sarah Flack — The Beguiled
5. Matthew Hannam, Trey Edward Shults — It Comes At Night

Honorable Mention: Meeyeon Han, Yang Jinmo — Okja

Achievement in Sound Editing: Richard King, Michael W. Mitchell, Randy Torres — Dunkirk 

Warner Bros./Courtesy

If we had to pick the most important technical aspect of Dunkirk, which would be an entirely unfair and borderline impossible task, the one that would be the most understandable to point to is sound, both editing and mixing.

Editing is the crafting of sounds and, in Dunkirk, it’s often specific sounds that add the most to the suspense. The incoming wane of the German planes’ horns is truly horrifying, as is the bombs’ explosions, which find a terrifyingly earthy, subsurface sound as they lift sand and soldier into the air.  When we’re in the interior of planes, the rumble of metal adds to a sense of immersion, to a sense of fear and anxiety in the smallest of spaces. And with the approach of Nolan, to remove the face of the enemy, bullets are louder, more jarring and more affecting. They pierce, whether it be through skin or sand or wood or metal, with a jolting, invasive, bodily ping. Dunkirk is meant to be a suspense film, and the specific sounds of war, sounds that real Dunkirk veterans have said are louder than the actual event, are crafted here with their fullest effect.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Will Files — War for the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

In the rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy, we see some of the most realistic special effects of all time, but the CGI wizardry wouldn’t hold up if not for excellent sound editing. The sound editing of War for the Planet of the Apes completes the film’s masterful CGI illusions, connecting our expectations of ape sounds with the visuals onscreen. We are convinced that the apes onscreen are grunting, shuffling about in the snow and fighting in a realistic way. Additionally, the sounds of war — the opening and closing battle scenes in particular come to mind — are immersive, putting us on the ground alongside Caesar and his apes. War films are often recognized for their sound editing, and in these awards, War for the Planet of the Apes is no different.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Choi Tae-young — Okja
4. James Mather, David Mackie, Nina Norek — Wonder Woman
5. Shannon Mills, Guillaume Bouchateau — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Honorable Mention: David Acord, Addison Teague, Lee Gilmore — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Achievement in Sound Mixing: Mark Weingarten, Unsun Song — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Sound mixing is how all of the sounds are brought together to create an atmosphere. And, quite evidently, Dunkirk has an auditory atmosphere fit for a horror film. No, truly. Dunkirk‘s sound mixing is in the vein of horror films. Think to the bombing of the hospital boat. As the giant ship’s metal moans as the boat tips into the wood of the mole, a voice can be heard screaming repeatedly, its body being crushed. Body’s jump off into the water, each splash toning the already terrifying scene that’s featured gunshots riddling the pier and bombs exploding on the boat.

The mix overwhelms us into a transfixed terror, hosting obviously physical elements within those attacks. But it also is subtly physical, working on every layer, literally, to render the beach, boats and air tangible. The wind and splashing waves almost feel like they hit us, constantly sitting behind the dialogue, reminding us of the setting. The wisp of the air, rattle of the Spitfire’s cockpit and masks of the pilots render dialogue as muffled and communication as difficult, as it would be in its reality. Dunkirk‘s sound mixing can transition from desperate voices drowning within the interior of a ship to massive explosions on its exterior with such fluidity while also maintaining the chaos of the situation. And that’s the true purpose of sound mixing, to become physical and to inform the story. With Dunkirk, there’s almost no movie at all without the horror that the mix provokes.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Kasper Pedersen, Al Green, Mary H. Ellis, James Peterson — Baby Driver

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Sound will always be one of the most underrated aspects of film, especially sound mixing. Where sound editing can tend to favor bombast, as sound editing represents the actual sounds we are hearing, mixing has to favor subtlety. Mixing is how the sound designers bring together all of the disparate sounds to create one perfect aural mix.

And honestly, it doesn’t get much better than what can be heard in Edgar Wright’s summer masterpiece Baby Driver. Featuring a booming soundtrack, with tight editing of car chases and heist scenes in sync with the sound, the Baby Driver mixing team had their work cut out for them. Imagine having to combine a rollicking Bellbottoms song, with the faint singing and air drumming of Ansel Elgort (in-tune with the music), with a souped-up muscle car’s engine running, all the while in the distance a heist with sirens and shooting is taking place. Sound like a doozy? Well, that’s just the first scene in a film filled to the brim with impeccable craft in the audial categories.  

— Levi Hill

Nominees:
3. Chris Duesterdiek, Erin Michael Rettig, Shawn Holden — War for the Planet of the Apes
4. Michael L. Barnett — A Ghost Story
5. Chris Duesterdiek, Danny Michale, Park Jong-kun — Okja

Honorable Mention: Ronnie Mukwaya — Wonder Woman

Achievement in Visual Effects: Dan Lemmon, Joe Letteri — War for the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

If one were to travel back in time to 1968 and show Charlton Heston War for the Planet of the Apes, one could undeniably convince him that the film was made using real ape actors (Hell, you could convince me that the film was made using actual apes). Of course, one would cause irreparable harm to the space-time continuum, possibly precipitating an actual simian hegemony, but that’s beside the point. The fact is, the visual effects in War (and the trilogy it belongs to) are utterly groundbreaking. Great CGI is nothing new, but the way the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise is predicated on photo-real apes is nothing short of extraordinary. These films need their apes to look believable, or else there’s no way an audience could invest in its characters, and it works — in the faces of these apes, we see genuine human emotion. The words “movie magic” get thrown around too casually to wholly represent the peak craftsmanship involved in creating this franchise’s apes, but one does feel a sense of wonderment at seeing something as totally unique and powerful as the CGI in War.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Scott Stokdyk, Joe Letteri — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

STX Entertainment

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets initially looked like a visual risk, seemingly bordering on muted overuse of CGI that could fall flat and become forgettable. Thankfully, the film evades that pitfall, so much so that it almost makes up for the unengaging story and one dimensional characters. And that’s because, in a way, the visual effects do impact the story. The beings and objects that the CGI in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets creates are distinct. Worlds are rendered with attention to detail, not just aesthetically, but societally, as civilizations are visually crafted with systems, practices and purpose. That’s what takes the visual effects to the next level. They’re stunning and beautiful to look at, generating imagery that only a visual master like Luc Besson and an expert visual effects team could’ve concocted — aliens are neither replicants of humans nor are they so wildly complex — and making use of color in distinct and attractive ways. But the visual effects also serve to world-build, or in this case, universe-build, and they’re taken to the next level for it.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Matthew Crnich, Ray McMaster, Doug Spilatro, Christopher Townsend — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
4. Jeon Hyoung Lee, Jun Hyoung Kim, Mike F. Hedayati, Erik De Boer — Okja
5. Viktor Muller, Bill Westenhofer, Loeng Wong-Savun — Wonder Woman

Honorable Mention: Theodore Bialek, Lou Pecora, Dominik Zimmerle — Spider-Man: Homecoming

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Mark Rylance — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Similar to his Oscar-winning Bridge of Spies turn, Rylance’s performance in Dunkirk is incredibly understated, with perhaps even less screen time. In the film’s aftermath, one quickly realizes that it’s the work of an actor who informs every bit of himself, physically and vocally, with why his character is the way he is. Truly, the aftermath, both at the end of the film and after audiences have left the theaters, is where Rylance’s performance holds the most weight.

Within Dunkirk, Rylance plays a civilian committed to crossing the channel, even in dire circumstances, and a man with a fascination for the RAF’s planes. But pay close attention to the dialogue after his boat, the Moonstone, full of rescued soldiers, dodges one final attack before making its way back to England, and Jack Lowden’s Collins asks Rylance’s Mr. Dawson how he knew the maneuvers to evade the German plane. Mr. Dawson says that his son was in the RAF before Peter, the son that we’ve known, reveals that he had a brother who died three weeks into the war. Mr. Dawson says, “I knew he’d see us through,” before tending to a shaking, terrified soldier (Cillian Murphy). In that moment, and after that specific line and that specific image, we pause, our breaths almost taken away.

The exposition, about the engines of Spitfires, delivered with a comforting admiration, becomes highly personal. The recurring fatherly moments — both in image (his heartbreaking nod to Peter after a tragic reveal) and in dialogue (his collected yet commanding presence when organizing a hectic rescue) — portray a character so defined and so thoroughly realized that, in repeat viewings, it’s difficult not to be in awe of Rylance as a performer.

But finally, one moment stands out. As Collins’ plane crashes into the water, Peter tells his Dad that he didn’t see a parachute and that the engine was out. Mr. Dawson doesn’t respond. Peter repeats. Mr. Dawson steers his boat firmly ahead. Peter repeats again, adding that the pilot is probably dead. Finally Mr. Dawson flings around, yelling, “Damnit Peter, I hear you!” He glances back. “Maybe he’s alive.” His volume lowers to a heartbreaking reserve. “Maybe we can help him.” It’s a moment that comes before the revelation, and is powerful when first seen. But in learning of his dead son, one who flew with the RAF, this moment transforms. His yells and his desperation are in an image of his son. In that moment, Mr. Dawson is trying to save the son that he couldn’t, and Rylance uses every ounce of his physical emotion to find that truth.

Dunkirk is an overwhelming spectacle, a film more about the event and the mass of people than purely individuals. Many have said that the near nameless, near faceless characters are simply there, without much emotion. But imagine Dunkirk without Rylance’s Mr. Dawson. It’s really difficult. Imagine Mr. Dawson as played by someone other than Rylance. It’s almost impossible. Rylance plays the most pivotal role in the film. Mr. Dawson is the core, the heart, the father — a character with actual inspiration from Christopher Nolan’s late father — that guides this picture’s emotions along a harrowing journey. It’s Rylance who sees us through.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Ray Romano — The Big Sick

Amazon/Courtesy

In The Big Sick, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) meets Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), the parents of his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Zoe Kazan), who falls into a coma. Despite Beth and Terry’s initial dismissiveness toward Kumail, he still decides to have lunch with them in the hospital cafeteria. As if things couldn’t get any more uncomfortable, Terry almost immediately dials the awkward levels to precipitous heights: “So, uh. 9/11. . .” Nevertheless, Terry develops a close bond with Kumail over the course of the film, and Ray Romano gets the chance to showcase his iconic comedy chops, while diving into his best dramatic role. Romano’s delivery relishes the awkwardness of Terry’s situation, but underneath it, there’s a tenderness and sincerity that The Big Sick depends on, and makes it all the more endearing and emotional.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Michael Fassbender — Alien: Covenant
4. Chris Pine — Wonder Woman
5. O’Shea Jackson Jr. — Ingrid Goest West

Honorable Mention: Steven Yeun — Okja

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score): Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Many weren’t sure what to expect with Dunkirk‘s score, unsure of how legendary composer Hans Zimmer could expand his already endlessly experimental career after voiding percussion and crafting his most emotional score with Interstellar. But somehow, with Dunkirk, Zimmer goes further, composing music that serves the film in an entirely different way. Here, Zimmer seemingly avoids musicality entirely, instead enhancing the soundscape of the film infinitely by adding to it. The center of the score is the tick of a watch, representing the urgency and immediateness of time. The tick is overbearing at times, ramping up tenfold, invading our bodies and digging its way into our heads. Much of the score’s lower sections are made up of sounds that feel as though they’re remnants of the battle itself, as though they’re the creaks of boats, the wanes of the ocean against a ship’s metal or the explosions of bombs. There are certain horror inspirations, with the biting strings of violins, the moan of the bass, the constantly and quickly fluctuating volume of a high pitched, auric screech. The beginning of Home sounds as though it’s been plucked straight out of a horror film.

As mentioned before, Zimmer makes use of the Shepard tone, a musical illusion that sounds like it’s constantly rising in tension. For a film based in suspense, tension and terror, such an illusion has immense effect, the pieces often becoming so filled with energy that’s then released in climactic fashion during the attack sequences.

But even despite the fact that Zimmer strays from typical musicality, he still manages to compose some career best work. In particular, The Oil represents everything utterly magnificent about Zimmer. Like pieces from Interstellar and The Dark KnightThe Oil starts incredibly low in volume and thin in layers. Playing at the climax of the film itself, The Oil builds in layers and volume consistently for six straight minutes, adding literal rise to the illusion of rising, before exploding into its own climax just as the film does. With this, the piece then becomes a serious, overbearing manipulation of the mind and the body, which initially sounds unpleasant, but, when watching the film’s climax, grabs hold of the eyes in ways that the climax couldn’t without the piece and in ways that cinema strives for.

And all of this comes without discussion of the film’s most emotional and most musical element: the influence of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod. Portions of it can be heard in Home, beautifully encapsulating the “Dunkirk spirit” as the civilian boats arrive. But none is more moving than Variation 15, a variation on Nimrod composed by Benjamin Wallfisch and produced by Zimmer, which plays at the end of the film. There’s something “unbearably moving” about it, as Christopher Nolan himself says in regard to Nimrod. And the piece does just that. The events at Dunkirk were a “military disaster” as Winston Churchill put it. But there’s “a victory inside this deliverance,” and it is exactly Variation 15 that renders not only the journey of the characters as triumphant, but Zimmer’s score and Dunkirk itself as well.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Daniel Hart — A Ghost Story

A24/Courtesy

Whether it’s the grating strings that herald Whatever Hour You Woke, or the warm, embracing melody of a single violin on Post Pie, Daniel Hart’s score for A Ghost Story never relents in its uncanny power to haunt the listener. The sense of introspective melancholy found in any of the score’s tracks lingers with the listener, until — especially through the defining track, I Get Overwhelmed — a swell of emotion becomes inescapable, maybe even cathartic in a powerfully ethereal way. A Ghost Story asks its viewer to project emotions onto the titular lonely specter, but Hart’s score amplifies those emotions, making them profoundly affecting in myriad ways. Resultantly, listening to Hart’s score is its own singular experience, one that exists beyond the confines of the film itself. Just put it on at night, maybe even fall asleep to it, and see what it tells you.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Michael Giacchino — War for the Planet of the Apes

4. Brian McOmber — It Comes At Night
5. Oneohtrix Point Never — Good Time

Honorable Mention: Michael Giacchino — Spider-Man: Homecoming

Performance by an Ensemble Cast: The Big Sick

Amazon/Courtesy

Where the potential for brilliant ensemble work in The Big Sick started was with the script, as Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani wrote each character with a genuine emotional arc. But that would’ve been for only so much had the roles not been cast to utter perfection. Kumail plays himself, which could’ve turned out poorly for the film. But he allows for a vulnerability that speaks to the reality of the story while other playing-themselves-stunts might’ve avoided such an aspect. Zoe Kazan, playing Emily, gives herself over to the role, also finding a vulnerability, except with the perspective of her character, which makes for a performance that feels singular and truthful. Romano and Hunter, playing Emily’s parents, play off of each other impeccably well, nailing the key traits of character that allow for a back and forth rhythm that elevates the importance of their relationship and role within the story as well as the comedy that they provide. The same goes for Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, playing Kumail’s parents, who bring an opposite perspective, but an equally dynamic chemistry. Throw in Bo Burnham basically playing himself (which is a good thing!) and supporting characters that each feel like their own person, and The Big Sick is the type of ensemble that doesn’t come around that often.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Okja

Kimberly French/Netflix/Courtesy

Every member of Okja’s ensemble cast is essential, bringing new dimensions and nuances to the film. Of course, there’s Ahn Seo-hyun, who gives the film its beating heart, and the obvious standouts like Tilda Swinton, bringing her unique brand of weird humor, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who adds to the zaniness by giving a performance that is essentially a Joker audition. Though he doesn’t have much screen time, Giancarlo Esposito also lends the film his trademark cool. The cast comprising the Animal Liberation Front brings their A-game too, as Paul Dano and Lily Collins play determined, uncompromising activists. Steven Yeun arguably gives one of the best performances in the film, since he is playing a distinctly Korean-American character, one that is essential in developing the theme of linguistic boundaries, and how systems of power play into them. Every character in Okja is rich and specific in detail, and only through a stellar ensemble cast can the film’s characters be truly realized.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Dunkirk
4. Baby Driver
5. The Beguiled

Honorable Mention: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Achievement in Directing: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Melina Sue Gordon

While many may still hold that The Dark Knight or Inception are better films, few will argue that Christopher Nolan’s direction of Dunkirk isn’t the best of his career, which is seriously saying something. The film has been awarded so many categories above precisely because of how every aspect of this film is working at full power and with full force, something that comes together under the guidance of one of the true auteurs of our time. Dunkirk is Nolan’s most cinematically ambitious film, utilizing the IMAX film format like it never has before and turning to visual elements of film, and away from dialogue and conventional story, to craft a piece of art that is wholly and purely cinematic, that can only exist as a piece of cinema. Nolan’s guiding hand paces the film to craft unmatched tension and structures the film to capitalize on and make the most of the historical event as well as to continue his investigation into time. It is at once Nolan’s most experimental film, the film that deviates the most from his typical style and expands his purview, while also being perhaps the most “Nolan” film we’ve gotten so far. His composition of action sequences, grounded in the physical, tangible reality of practical sets and practical effects, represents a technical genius on par with Alfonso Cuarón and George Miller, directors of similarly gigantic cinematic achievements. But his handling of theme, that of time, invoked by the film’s structure, elevates him above being purely a masterful technician. Nolan, showcased perhaps most efficiently and thouguhyl by his direction of Dunkirk, is a masterful storyteller.

Runner-up: David Lowery — A Ghost Story

Bret Burry/A24/Courtesy

A Ghost Story is obviously a very personal story to David Lowery, and sometimes, because something’s personal, it fails to be translated and executed in a way that resonates with audiences. And yet, there’s so much care offered to each frame, to each performance, to how each aspect of production, from technical to emotional, coalesces into the singularity that is A Ghost Story — a tale about grief that is as human as any film you might think of. Lowery’s direction, how he holds on to scenes, how he paces and progresses the narrative and how he forces the viewer to confront the film, is sublime. But his job as a director perhaps becomes elevated by how he works with his team and how he opens up to suggestion. The film initially was structured much more linearly until Shane Carruth came in to help edit. The film also lacked the song I Get Overwhelmed and how that song is intimately connected to the characters until Daniel Hart, who created the song, suggested it. Lowery’s personal vision doesn’t fail because he allows others in on it. A Ghost Story is not the sign of a typical “auteur,” but of someone who knows that in order to craft his deeply personal message, it has to become about the collaboration between everyone. And in that way, under that type of direction, A Ghost Story is a fully realized story about the weight of time.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Edgar Wright — Baby Driver
4. Bong Joon-ho — Okja
5. Trey Edward Shults — It Comes At Night

Honorable Mention: Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Florence Pugh — Lady Macbeth

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

It was a summer of nasty women. In an attempt at viral marketing, the team behind The Beguiled rolled out a summer campaign that dubbed its leading ladies “vengeful bitches.” While the term certainly fit, an unassuming summer indie ended up making Sofia Coppola’s scheming Southern belles look positively docile. Lady Macbeth, starring Florence Pugh, was the feminist, “burn the patriarchy” movie of the summer. In the beginning, it’s a tired tale; Katherine (Pugh) is married off to an older man in what is quickly revealed to be a loveless marriage. Unlike similar period dramas, however, Katherine is no damsel in distress. She makes the jump from blushing bride to cunning psychopath in the blink of an eye, manipulating everyone in the household as her plan comes to fruition. It’s a star-making performance for Pugh, who shot the film at 19 and currently sits on the precipice of becoming Hollywood’s newest ingenue.

— Kate Halliwell

Runner-up: Ahn Seo-hyun — Okja

Netflix/Courtesy

None of Okja’s jabs at the meat industry, animal rights activism and the violence condoned by capitalism would hit hard without the audience’s investment in the relationship at the film’s core — the friendship between Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and Okja. Since Okja is a CG creation, Ahn deserves praise for being able to act alongside a stuffed animal (later replaced with a CG super pig). She wrings heaps of emotion from us, as she frolics with Okja in the woods of her home, and as she descends into a hellish meat packing plant to save her friend. Ahn is one of the best child actors working today, and she has an undeniably bright future ahead of her.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Aubrey Plaza — Ingrid Goest West
4. Charlize Theron — Atomic Blonde
5. Gal Gadot — Wonder Woman

Honorable Mention: Nicole Kidman — The Beguiled

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Andy Serkis — War for the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

War for the Planet of the Apes, despite the grandeur and bombast implied by the title, is an intimate character study. As a result, the film relies heavily on closeups of character’s faces, more so than its two predecessors, and Andy Serkis (Caesar) rises, like he’s never done before, to that challenge. Serkis should have been nominated for awards for his pioneering motion capture work long ago, but detractors claim that CGI gives him an unfair advantage. No matter where you stand on this issue, it’s undeniable that War is predicated on Serkis’ performance. The computer wizardry behind Caesar needs to start somewhere, and Serkis provides expressions that could stand on their own. If the film isn’t evidence of the man’s talent (It is!) just look at this. We knew Serkis could deliver an extraordinary breadth of emotion from the previous films in the Apes franchise, but War considerably widens that breadth. Through the film’s close-ups, the camera lingers on the pain, weariness and sometimes joy that Caesar feels, and those emotions are extremely palpable. In particular, when Caesar is reunited with his loved ones, we see a character defined by his composure break down completely, and Serkis’ performance is powerful enough to move us to tears. Serkis truly deserves every amount of praise that comes his way, and hopefully, come fall, Academy voters won’t tune out such praise.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Joel Edgerton — It Comes At Night

A24/Courtesy

It Comes at Night is a film that revels in ambiguity, and that extends to Joel Edgerton’s performance as Paul, a man trying to protect his family amid a viral apocalypse. In many ways, the ambiguity in the film shows how difficult it can be to trust other people, and Edgerton’s performance is nuanced enough to suggest varying degrees of morality and maybe something sinister too. He claims to have been a teacher, but how does he know how to efficiently dispose of a body, let alone shoot with tip top accuracy? Edgerton’s facial expressions don’t give us any answers, intentionally keeping us in the dark. There’s a certain weight to the character that Edgerton brings too, a grounded sense of power that gives every yell and deep stare a harsh resonance, and that’s the brilliance of his performance.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Robert Pattinson — Good Time
4. Kumail Nanjiani — The Big Sick
5. Woody Harrelson — The Glass Castle

Honorable Mention: John Cho — Columbus

Best Motion Picture of the Summer: Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

From the very beginning of Dunkirk, especially if viewed in IMAX 70mm, we are immersed, moved and affected on every sensory level in ways that virtual reality could only dream of. As showcased by its various technical awards, Dunkirk is a film that begs to be seen theatrically, that fights for the art form of cinema as it’s truly and only a cinematic experience. It’s host to action sequences that we almost never get, realistic and bracingly physical scenes that truly transport us to the beaches of Dunkirk, to the boats on the channel and to the air above, realized by artists, on every level, working toward their full potential. Its structure is experimental and, through perfect execution, almost groundbreaking, opening up a new space in how one experiences a film and how a filmmaking crafts a tense and utterly transformative story. But then there’s the sense of theme within the film that elevates it, a theme that Christopher Nolan’s been obsessed with investigating since the start of his career: time. Time works in the film to add to suspense. But it also works in building perspective, to capture scope and to evoke humanity. Dunkirk is wrapped in terror, horror, fear and more, but there’s a through-line of humanity, how all of those intense and overwhelming emotions come directly from our humanity, something Nolan approaches with empathy. In its final minutes, toned triumphantly, Dunkirk solidifies itself as more than just a technical achievement. It’s a film that represents everything that film stands for, in the theatrical, cinematic experience, both on a sensory level, but also on a deeply emotional, resonant and empathetic level as well.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: It Comes At Night

A24/Courtesy

In It Comes at Night, indie-cinema-savior A24 and budding horror visionary Trey Edward Shults team up to deliver a sparse, Lynchian slow-burn of a horror-thriller, one where nightmares bleed into reality to create an inescapable sense of fear and dread. Such fear is merciless and it easily devours even the most moral of people, so when the film postulates this sentiment, a lurch in the gut becomes inevitable. Never mind the ambiguity surrounding the identity of the titular “it.” Ignore the divided opinions between critics and audiences. This film warns us that untethered, insidious fear will be our doom, and it’s a warning that needs heeding now more than ever.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. A Ghost Story
4. The Big Sick
5. War for the Planet of the Apes
6. Baby Driver
7. Wonder Woman
8. Okja
9. Good Time
10. The Beguiled

Honorable Mention: Columbus

 

A Note: We at MovieMinis feel a need to take into account sexual harassment and assault when relevant to films. ‘A Ghost Story’ is one of those films where a conversation must be had in order to be responsible writers, journalists and human beings. Casey Affleck was accused of sexual harassment while making the film ‘I’m Still Here.’ The cases were settled out of court. We will not, nor will we ever, act as the court, but we will and must believe the women that took cases up with him because it is necessary — as so few victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are believed in the first place. This past of Casey Affleck has influenced many viewers of ‘A Ghost Story’ in deeply negative and painful ways, so we must make clear that our recognition of the film is not in support or endorsement of him. We denounce those actions and we must confront the reality that ‘A Ghost Story’ will always be affected by his presence. In our decision to recognize the film, we aimed to fully avoid Affleck and hoped to look at the achievements of the other people who made undeniably excellent contributions to the film. While ‘A Ghost Story’ should never be looked at as wholly separate from Affleck, we feel as though there’s a way to both celebrate the work of certain artists while also not ignoring the problems that arise with his involvement. We hope we’ve been responsible and we stand with survivors and victims. 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Top ten films premiered at Telluride Film Festival since 2010

Amid the swaths of festivals, Telluride, taking place between September 1-4, stands out as an unpretentious yet incredibly prestigious venue for some of the most honest films of the year. Like the town in which it takes place, Telluride is small and intimate. It evokes the best of what a film community can be, in genuine artistry, but also in just being fans of movies and of movie-makers; it was a key moment in the great friendship between the La La Land and Moonlight creative teams, which maintained despite the audience split that sprouted during the awards season. And while many of the Oscar hopefuls look to the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival for their starts, the quieter premieres at Telluride often have the grander impact. Since 2010, the best of the best from Telluride Film Festival are breathtaking. From Oscar winners to profound independents to landmark documentaries, the top ten Telluride films of the last seven years show the best of what cinema can be.

10. Wild

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

While many may point to Dallas Buyers Club and Big Little Lies when thinking of Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, it would be a shame to ignore the gem that is Wild. First and foremost, any film that features the sublime, timeless, astounding Laura Dern in even just a slightly weighty role is one to adore. But Wild crafts not only its character, Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl, so instinctively, but it also crafts the journey of Cheryl so tenderly and affectingly. Cheryl confronts the wild in her long walk from the top of the U.S. to the bottom, and the film follows suit, embracing a sort of vulnerable physicality in its color palette, in its subtle sound and intimate cinematography. Wild may not be the most jaw-dropping or impressive film, but it’s one that finds its way underneath one’s skin and into one’s bones because it is so human.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Frances Ha

IFC Films/Courtesy

Frances Ha is director Noah Baumbach’s ebullient tribute to the cinema of the French New Wave. We follow the titular Frances (the incredible Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach) as she meets friends, moves from apartment to apartment and tries to reconcile her dreams of dancing with the possibility that they’ll remain dreams and nothing more. Though the film is in black and white, the spread of emotions that Frances endures is hardly so — the film pinwheels from her trademark levity to crushing lows, before rising to a strained melancholy and finally settling on a relieved contentedness. That such dichotomies coexist in the film isn’t jarring, but rather endearing. We’ve all had nights that started out perfectly, but then take a hard left into awfulness that only seems to get worse, and that’s a sentiment that the film understands and addresses with humor and sensitivity. Befittingly, the film isn’t reliant on plot, but that’s okay — we’re happy to have known Frances, if but for an hour and a half.

— Harrison Tunggal

8. The Descendants

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

Against all odds, Alexander Payne’s 2011 film The Descendants pairs adultery, comatose spouses and Hawaiian real estate in a simultaneously heartwrenching and hilarious examination of what family really means. The film follows Matt King (George Clooney) as his wife is injured in a jetskiing accident and he is forced to decide whether or not to leave his now comatose wife on life support — a decision made more difficult by the realization that she had been having an affair. Clooney and Shailene Woodley, in arguably both their finest work to date, carry the film on their transparently expressive faces, captured lovingly in close-up by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. True to the book on which it is based, The Descendants almost veers too far into cruel, biting satire at times, but no one is better suited to walk the balance between bleak humanity and the humor found in everyday life than Alexander Payne. While certain scenes stand out as all-timers (Clooney’s famous hospital monologue, Woodley’s character revealing her mother’s affair), The Descendants in its entirety is a hard look at dealing with the past, managing the present and confronting the future.

— Kate Halliwell

7. Steve Jobs

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Steve Jobs had such a dramatic journey to the big screen — an intensely buzzed-about Aaron Sorkin script originally connected to David Fincher and with Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale rumored to star. But the creative team it ended up with was a perfect match. Danny Boyle’s high-energy direction scores Jobs with an electric edge and Michael Fassbender transforms subtly yet entirely, embodying the icon with a domineering physicality, especially in vocal tone, while deconstructing his problematic persona and humanizing his core — not necessarily sacrificing one for the other. The film has massive ambitions, with a story structure similar to a play and carrying a character in light of Citizen Kane. It might not reach all of its goals, but it finds a place in contemporary cinema that so many films have tried for but failed.

— KK

6. Under the Skin

A24/Courtesy

On very simple terms, Under the Skin is an astonishing vehicle for the auric, subtle physicality that Scarlett Johansson can take hold of in a performance, as well as for the viscerally invasive work of composer Mica Levi — many critics still cite her score as one of the best of the 21st century. But, quite obviously, Under the Skin is anything but simple. Delving deep into the avant garde, as well as other more visually focused traditions, Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi picture, about an alluring woman, is oftentimes terrifying without us even realizing how intensely so until afterward, or until the pop of a body contorted by forces beyond its control. As viewers, we oftentimes feel like a victim trapped beneath — a purposeful effect that produces a pure sense of the image, oftentimes simple in color and composition but wildly unnerving in context, that only cinema could. Of course, this leaves little easy explanation and few paths for traditional absorption, making Under the Skin difficult to encounter. But if we surrender ourselves to visual language, the film will prove deeply human, without much of the sentimentality, and gendered in its experience, deconstructivist in its angle and, honestly, just fucking weird — in a good way.

— KK

5. Prisoners

Warner Bros./Courtesy

The sense of mounting dread that director Denis Villeneuve builds in Prisoners is staggering to behold. Drenched in darkness and shadow by the master himself, Roger Deakins, this film transports the viewer into a world of ubiquitous horror, one where corpses fill basements, families descend into violence and even moments of reprieve contort into the realization that we’re all shackled to those we love, for better or worse. This is a film where your heart keep sinking to depths you didn’t know existed, right to its final shot. Prisoners also sports a stellar cast firing on all cylinders — Hugh Jackman’s intensity makes his performance in this film one of his finest, Jake Gyllenhaal showcases the cold determination he would later dial to eleven in Nightcrawler and Paul Dano ratchets up the tension by keeping the audience on its toes. Additionally, Viola Davis brings her eminent gravitas while Terrence Howard matches Jackman’s fear and desperation as they search for their missing daughters. Prisoners is arguably Denis Villeneuve’s best film, and we can’t wait to see how his sensibilities translate to Blade Runner 2049 and other future projects.

— HT

4. Anomalisa

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

This stop-motion picture is difficult to confront, venturing into the abstract in many areas. But, as one should expect with Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa, a film without actual humans, is filled with a humanity unlike most other films. It is, in large part, because of the voice work. David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh provide an affectingly raw basis within this world, conveying vulnerability and the weight of the human condition through tiny inflections. And Tom Noonan, literally voicing every other figure, is shockingly hilarious and horrifyingly scary at the same time. Yet, the voices become that profound because of the imagery within which they inhabit. Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson frame each shot with a deep understanding of theme, that everything so blandly and terrifyingly blends together, that the world is unrewarding and depressing, that finding someone within the void is miraculous and losing them to the blend is a nightmare. The amalgamation brings about an intimacy that only a masterful film could build.

— KK

3. Room

A24/Courtesy

Book-to-movie adaptations, as a rule, are difficult to pull off, and that challenge increases exponentially when the source material in question is narrated in entirety by a five year old boy with a limited understanding of the world. It gets even harder when that world consists of a tiny one-room shed, and the boy’s mother — the room’s only other occupant — chooses to raise him as if that one room really is the entire universe. So begins Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Room, starring Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson as a mother and son held in captivity until their eventual escape. Room is effectively split in two halves, which places the duo’s plotting and escape at odds with their tentative transition back into the outside world. The film would go on to win Larson her first Oscar and cement Tremblay’s place as Hollywood’s cutest kid, but it served as far more than a vehicle for its stars-to-be. Bleak, hard-to-watch moments combine with an enduring sense of childlike curiosity in what is already deservedly considered to be one of the best book adaptations of all time.

— KH

2. The Act of Killing

Final Cut for Real/Courtesy

The Act of Killing is a difficult film to watch, and if you’re at all connected to the killings that took place in Indonesia from 1965-1966, then Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary is downright excruciating. The film’s two main subjects, Anwar Congo and Herman Koto, belonged to a government death squad that extorted from and killed more than one million communists and Chinese Indonesians. They gloat about the lives they took and how they took them, going to obscene lengths to reenact their methods. It’s a sick parody of cinephilia — Congo and Koto claim to be inspired by the violence in the films they idolized, and some of the reenactments are draped in the trappings of their favorite genres. And these are just barely the reasons why The Act of Killing is a disturbing watch — ultimately, we’re left wondering if there’s redemption in remorse. After seeing the utter impunity of the murderers, such a question becomes disturbingly difficult, if not impossible, to answer. Unpleasant as it may be, The Act of Killing is truly an essential film, reminding us that the soul is at stake when blind nationalism supersedes morality.

— HT

1. Moonlight

David Bornfriend/A24/Courtesy

With a rare 99 on Metacritic, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is cinematic perfection. For anyone who’s seen the film, such a statement stands on its own, though additional validation comes from its historic Best Picture win at the 89th Academy Awards. But forget the craziness surrounding the moment of its victory — such things are much too loud for a film like Moonlight. It is a film predicated on an intimate viewing experience, one in which quiet subtleties in the performances of its all black cast and precise details in the filmmaking precipitate an immense significance. From the close-ups of Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland as their characters reunite, we see heartbreak and hope at the same time, and years of toxic, performative masculinity erode with just one look. From the final embrace of these two men, we see a moment of LGBTQ+ representation that is executed with the utmost sensitivity and tenderness. Then there’s James Laxton’s cinematography, where a shallow depth of field puts us with the characters, exacting a sense of empathy that lends the film its total hold over our emotions. It is impossible to overstate the significance of Moonlight, especially when empathy and sensitivity are becoming ever rarer, but with Barry Jenkins behind the camera, there’s hope that such qualities will persevere, at least on the big screen.

— HT

Featured image (modified) via Ken Lund.